After the shameful way Abram comes off in Genesis 12 — going into self-protection mode, trying to control the situation, putting his wife in danger by passing her off as his sister — he certainly comes off brilliantly in Genesis 13. Perhaps newly chastened, he is ready in this moment to trust in God’s sovereignty.
Something has been going on between Abram and his nephew Lot. They’ve both got lots of land but apparently it’s not big enough for the both of them. Some kind of conflict has arisen in the mix of their parallel prosperity. But Abram seeks the better way; he’s realized what is happening. Their “stuff” is coming between them and he does something remarkable:
Abram says to Lot: “Hey, take your pick. Whatever you want, you can have. Take whatever looks good to you, and I’ll take the rest, whatever’s leftover. If you want east, I’ll take west. If you want west, I’ll take east. No big whoop.”
What’s Abram doing? He’s giving Lot first choice, but really he’s giving God first choice. He’s abandoning himself to God’s sovereignty. “God, take me wherever you want. I’ve tried doing this my own way; I’ve tried controlling things. I’ve tried manipulating the situation; I’ve tried getting everything. And I know this is an offense against you.” So he goes back to the first altar, reaffirms his commitment, cries out to God and says, “Take me where you will.”
This means giving Lot first dibs and taking the scraps. And then look at what God does:
The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.”
Abram gave up and God gave him everything!
He said “I’ll take east, or I’ll take west. Whichever.” And God says, “How about — ALL OF IT?”
This is another dynamic we see throughout all of Scripture.
Mark 10:31 “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Matthew 23:12 “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
1 Peter 5:6 “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,”
And probably the two most applicable to this passage:
Matthew 6:33 “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Matt. 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Abram meekly said “Whatever you want,” and God gave him the earth. It’s like, he gave up his seat on the bus, and God gave him the keys.
When we’re going around stuffing ourselves with every pleasure and desire we can get our hands on, it’s because ultimately we’re looking for God. And so none of it satisfies. But when we finally turn our gaze to God and say “I only want you” — we get him.
But isn’t this where we run into trouble? Because we can’t quite get ourselves empty, can we? I mean, can you pray for five minutes without thinking of that funny thing you saw on Facebook? Can you read your Bible for very long without getting distracted about that deadline at work?
Abram looks great right here. But we’re only three chapters away from his trying to manipulate the situation and control the covenant with his own scheming all over again!
It’s impossible for us to empty ourselves because we’re constantly so full of ourselves.
None of us can give up everything. Before Christ, we are sinners — dead and full of utter need. But even after Christ has justified us, until he comes back to vanquish sin finally and fully, we still wrestle with our sin. We are sinner-saints. So some days we’re the Abram of Genesis 13 but most days we’re the Abram of Genesis 12.
If we’re looking at this principle that to give up everything gains everything and emptying is the way to exalting, we are on the right track but we can never arrive in and of ourselves. In ourselves, we never quite give up everything. In ourselves, we will never truly become empty.
And now we see just how much we need Jesus. We need the Jesus who loves us in our Genesis 13 moments and our Genesis 12 moments. We need the Jesus whose favor rests on us purely by the grace of his Father and the power of his Spirit – not because of anything we’ve done or not done – purely by his sovereign pleasure. We need the Jesus who can sort through our mixed motives, who can heal our deepest wounds, who can free us from our strongest prisons, who can rescue us from our deepest graves, the ones we dig ourselves.
Only Jesus has truly given up everything in order to gain everything. Only Jesus has truly emptied himself (Phil. 2:6-11). And in his emptying, comes his exalting. In his emptying and exalting, comes our own.
So there was a time that Jesus was in the midst of the wilderness, and he was hungry and weary and the devil took him by the shoulder and showed him the vast multitudes of glorious cities in the valley below and said to him, “Look, Jesus, there doesn’t need to be conflict between us. There’s plenty for everyone. Look east and west. Look at all the beautiful riches out there just waiting for you. Why don’t you take your pick? You can have it all.”
And where Abram said to Lot, “there’s plenty of room for both of us,” Jesus instead turns to Satan and says, “You know, there’s not enough room in this world for both of us. So you’re going to have to leave.”
And I picture Satan beginning to tremble. Suddenly that vast desert didn’t seem so big. Suddenly he felt invisible walls closing in around him. Suddenly he realized the tables had turned. Jesus was not his prey; he was Jesus’!
No, the Son of God says to that ancient enemy and to sin itself, “The cosmos is not big enough for both of us, because I am filling all things. I am the omnipotent God, and my glory will cover the earth like the waters cover the sea. So evil’s days are numbered.”
So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord
— Genesis 13:18